Every so often I decide to disappear in the mountains east of Cusco and walk along ancient Inca roads past rarely seen ruins. Getting away from the crush of tourists lets me breathe in the quiet of the mountains where only the occasional campesino can be seen.
Today was one of those days.
The hike started on the original Camino del Inca al Antisuyo, which means the Inca Road to the Antisuyo. The Antisuyo is the eastern region of the four quarters of the Inca empire and generally is the fringe of the jungle where the Incas never encroached very far.
Today I went up past the Templo de la Luna (“Temple of the Moon”) with the intention of going all the way to the ruins of Pukapukara. It’s a really long hike — nearly 8 miles — with the first part almost completely uphill to about 12,700′ in altitude.
Hiking along the reconstructed Inca road is always a challenge since it is the steepest part of the route as it makes its way out of Cusco. Once past the Templo de la Luna, I went behind the ruins and up a canyon to the left towards the ruins of Chispiyoq which are on the road to the better-known ruins of Pukapukara and Tambomachay. The old road only exists in one section here, but its retaining walls are still standing after all the centuries.
Chuspiyoq is an interesting place — probably a ceremonial stopping place on the way to Tambomachay since there are no ruins of any type of housing — but I was more concerned with hiking higher up the canyon.
I’ve met all kinds of local people along this route. Usually they seem quite surprised to see a foreigner walking there, but a smile and a hello always goes a long way towards making friends.
I continued on up to the ruins of Pukapukara — a relative small site that is a great example of Inca engineers’ use of integrating stonework with the underlying bedrock. A good bit of it has been reconstructed so it’s not as interesting to me as some of the other sites in the region.
Needless to say, I was pretty tired from nearly four miles of uphill hiking to get there, so I didn’t stay long. I almost caught a bus back down the mountain, but decided I needed the exercise so I headed back down the trail.
Pretty quickly I noticed another trail branching off to the left that I had never noticed before. It was obviously heavily used so I knew that it was used by locals to go somewhere important.
Where it took me was higher into the mountains back towards the Antisuyo road. The scenery was spectacular and with not a tourist in sight! All along the road were signs that this was not just a modern trail, but was a secondary Inca road that connected two important Inca roads.
In this part of the region it’s almost impossible to avoid the remains of Inca roadwork and the accompanying walls on the mountainsides. It always amazes me that the ancient roads are probably used just as much today as they were centuries ago and for many of the same reasons.
Walking across the highlands is spectacular with views of the surrounding mountains that are truly breathtaking. Of course, there are other issues. Twice I had to deal with highly aggressive dogs.
The first time I was nearly attacked by two sheep dogs. I really thought it was going to be a fight, but when I took off my backpack they backed off. The second time was a bit less aggressive, but still scary, dog who sprinted across a field where a family of farmers were harvesting grain. (Sorry, no photos as I was more concerned with not getting bit!)
Eventually, I found my way back to the upper Antisuyo road and made my way back down to Cusco — exhausted but thrilled that I’d found yet another old Inca road probably unknown to anyone but local people.
Days like this are why I love living here. There are so many hidden treasures just beyond the main tourist sites that can easily be found just be seeing what’s over the next hill.
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